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How to Perform Lead Acid Battery Maintenance: A step-by-step guide to visual battery inspection

Did you know that 85% of UPS and power system failures are due to battery failures or the improper management of them?1 

Here are the five primary purposes that proper lead acid battery maintenance serves:

  1. Prolongs the life of the battery
  2. Ensures satisfaction of design requirements
  3. Determines potential failure and predicts need for replacement
  4. Ensures the battery is in a safe operating condition
  5. Provides for peace of mind

Furthermore, primary IEEE and NERC standards for battery maintenance require some form of visual inspection, with the IEEE 1188 for VRLA batteries and the IEEE 450 for VLA batteries requiring visual inspection on a monthly basis.

Here is a 15-step process to begin every lead-acid battery maintenance process with an important and effective visual battery inspection.

Inspect label icon
  1. Inspect labeling

Check that battery model and cell/unit manufacturing data code are visible and cell numbering is adequate and correct.

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2. Look for dust, corrosion, water or electrolyte

Ensure top cover of battery is clean, without any accumulation of dust or material that might cause short circuits.

Battery icon with posts identified on each side

3. Check posts and seals

Examine connection points for distortion, growth, cracking, heating or electrolyte seepage.

Icon of an arrow pointing to a battery post

4. Inspect inter-cell connections

Check for signs of corrosion, discoloration, looseness or over-tightening.

Icon of cracked battery top

5. Check covers for cracking

Cracks around positive post might indicate positive plate growth, but cracking around both posts could indicate defective cover material.

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6. Look for post discoloration

Examine battery posts for signs of discoloration which would indicate a post seal failure or a loose connection.

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7. Check containers

Look for signs of crazing, cracking, leakage, swelling or damage in general – even on the bottom.

Steps 8 through 15 apply to VLA batteries only.

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8. Inspect electrolyte levels

Check that the level is above “low” and below “high” marks and the liquid is clear with some minor bubbling.

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9. Examine plates for excessive plate growth

With VLA lead-calcium batteries, some growth is natural; however, it should be gradual over time.

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10. Look for sulfation

Presence of bright lead sulfate crystals on the negative plates indicates battery has or is being undercharged.

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11. Look for hydration

Milky white discoloration on the translucent container indicates lead hydrate, showing the battery has not been recharged after a discharge.

Icon of a torn separator

12. Check for separator tears

This could indicate a potential problem such as a short circuit cell.

Icon of battery with uneven levels of material

13. Look for treeing

Identified by the formation of shiny sponge lead, this is a term for the growth of dendrites in the plate sediment.

Icon of battery shedding material

14. Examine for shed active material

Check the battery, particularly the bottom, for material which may eventually cause a short between plates.

Icon of contaminated battery

15. Identify copper contamination

Pinkish discoloration on the negative strap and plates indicates copper, usually from the posts, has leeched into the battery, signaling the need for a replacement.

Preventative lead acid battery maintenance should always be viewed as a priority, addressed and executed by knowledgeable personnel with proper, training, safety tools and protective equipment.2

For any additional information about battery maintenance and visual batter inspections, please review our recent webinar on this topic.

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1Source. B-Tech, Inc.

2Source. IEEE Std 1188™-2005

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